Smooth muscle is an integral part of hollow organs. Many of them are constantly subjected to mechanical forces that alter organ shape and modify the properties of smooth muscle. To understand the molecular mechanisms underlying smooth muscle function in its dynamic mechanical environment, a new paradigm has emerged that depicts evanescence of myosin filaments as a key mechanism for the muscle’s adaptation to external forces in order to maintain optimal contractility. Unlike the bipolar myosin filaments of striated muscle, the side-polar filaments of smooth muscle appear to be less stable, capable of changing their lengths through polymerization and depolymerization (i.e., evanescence). In this review, we summarize accumulated knowledge on the structure and mechanism of filament formation of myosin II and on the influence of ionic strength, pH, ATP, myosin regulatory light chain phosphorylation, and mechanical perturbation on myosin filament stability. We discuss the scenario of intracellular pools of monomeric and filamentous myosin, length distribution of myosin filaments, and the regulatory mechanisms of filament lability in contraction and relaxation of smooth muscle. Based on recent findings, we suggest that filament evanescence is one of the fundamental mechanisms underlying smooth muscle’s ability to adapt to the external environment and maintain optimal function. Finally, we briefly discuss how increased ROCK protein expression in asthma may lead to altered myosin filament stability, which may explain the lack of deep-inspiration–induced bronchodilation and bronchoprotection in asthma.

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